Top 5 MMA Gyms of 2013

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2014

Top 5 MMA Gyms of 2013

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    Our final year-end slideshow is here, and to wrap things up, we're going to rank the top five MMA gyms of 2013.

    We all know about iron sharpening iron, but some gyms are just a bit more ferrous than others.

    So what gyms broke their members' limits? What places built up their fighters and introduced new beasts to fans? Which demonstrated themselves to be better than the rest?

    Find out here!

No. 5: Roufusport

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    Credit: Dave Mandel,

    Location: Milwaukee, Wis.
    Top Performers: Anthony Pettis, Ben Askren
    Rising Star: Sergio Pettis

    Top Performance: Anthony Pettis takes another belt from Ben Henderson.

    This is by far the easiest choice for the top moment among any of the gyms on this list. Pettis once again beat Henderson and took a belt home for his efforts, which was one of the biggest moments for the UFC in 2013.

    What Made 2013 Great: Domination by Pettis, Askren

    There are plenty of fighters in major organizations at the Roufusport camp. Pettis and Askren are by far the two biggest names on the gym's roster, and they were really good this year.

    Pettis kicked Donald Cerrone's torso into Row 4 at UFC on Fox 6 and followed that up by making Bendo tap to a first-round armbar.

    Askren, meanwhile, defended his belt twice with TKO victories over Karl Amoussou and Andrey Koreshkov. Those wins didn't earn him a UFC contract, but he still finds his stock at an all-time high.

    What to Look Forward to in 2014: Sergio Pettis will make a name for himself.

    Sergio Pettis was one of the top prospects in the United States before the UFC scooped him up. While he is most recognizable by his last name, he has strong chops both standing and on the ground, and he can finish a fight anywhere in the cage. 

    While Pettis was the RFA Flyweight Champ, he seems to be locked into the UFC's bantamweight division. He debuted opposite Will Campuzano at UFC 167 and will face off against Alex Caceres at UFC on Fox 10. That's a tough test for the young fighter, but if he can win, it will likely lead to big things for him.

No. 4: Jaco Hybrid Training Center

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    Location: Boca Raton, Fla.
    Top Performers: Vitor Belfort, Eddie Alvarez
    Rising Star: Michael Johnson

    Top Performance: Rashad Evans mauls co-worker and friend Chael Sonnen.

    Rashad Evans is the unofficial king of the Blackzilians for most of us. After all, we first started paying attention to the supercamp because of his feud with Greg Jackson in 2011. Because of that, he always seemed to be the barometer for where his entire camp was, and back-to-back losses followed by a lackluster showing against Dan Henderson seemed to suggest that the relevance of both Evans and the Blackzilians was coming to a close.

    Toward the end of 2013, though, things started turning around in a profound way, and Evans reminded us how good that group of fighters can be by wrecking Sonnen at UFC 167. The rejuvenated camp has a huge amount of potential entering 2014.

    What Made 2013 Great: Making everyone eat their words.

    At the beginning of the year, the Blackzilians, quite literally, were a joke. Coaches were leaving. Fighters were leaving. The guys who stuck around were losing almost across the board.

    By the end of 2013, though, Eddie Alvarez had the Bellator lightweight belt, Belfort had a shot at the UFC middleweight belt, Evans had a winning streak over Top 10 light heavyweights, Tyrone Spong became a true star in the making, Anthony Johnson was the backbone to World Series of Fighting, Michael Johnson was climbing toward the lightweight Top 10, and on and on.

    The Blackzilians are back, ladies and gentlemen.

    What to Look Forward to in 2014: Eddie Alvarez as Bellator champ.

    The story of Eddie Alvarez and his ugly legal battle with Bellator was one of the biggest stories of 2013.

    The Viacom-owned promotion wound up sacrificing credibility with its fighters and reputation with its fans...and for what? To give posterboy Michael Chandler a high-profile name on his resume?

    Well, that plan didn't work out so well. Alvarez is now the biggest name for a promotion he hates, which gives him all the leverage in the world to exact vengeance on Bellator. That makes this one of the most interesting stories to keep an eye on in 2014.

No. 3: Nova Uniao

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    Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    Top Performers: Renan Barao, Jose Aldo
    Rising Star: Thales Leites

    Top Performance: Renan Barao spin kicks Eddie Wineland in the face.

    Barao is really good at this whole fighting thing. The problem is, the ugly word "interim" followed him like a dark cloud, and the shadow of Dominick Cruz covered him no matter what he did.

    While that is still the case to some degree, Barao began building his own legacy in earnest by knocking out former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland with a brutal spinning kick to the head.

    What Made 2013 Great: A wave of new (and old) talent enters UFC.

    We know about Barao. We know about Jose Aldo. Many of us know about Eduardo Dantas.

    They're really good, and all three have belts from major promotions around their waists. What made this a particularly good year for Nova Uniao was how many fighters started climbing up the rankings.

    Former middleweight title contender Thales Leites finally got another chance in the UFC and has made the most of it so far with a 2-0 2013. Leonardo Santos won The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. Caio Magalhaes is sneaking up the middleweight division. Claudia Gadelha might be an Invicta champion by 2014.

    What to Look Forward to in 2014: Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber.

    This is pretty straightforward. The title bout between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber should be a good one.

No. 2: Team Alpha Male

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    Location: Sacramento, Calif.
    Top Performers: Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes
    Rising Star: Chris Holdsworth

    Top Performance: Chad Mendes gives Clay Guida his first-ever KO loss.

    It was a great year filled with lots of wins for Team Alpha Male. That made it kind of hard to pick between Urijah Faber's four dominant victories, Chris Holdsworth's spree through The Ultimate Fighter Season 18, Joseph Benavidez's destruction of everyone other than Demetrious Johnson and plenty of other possibilities.

    Ultimately, though, it's impossible to choose anything other than Mendes handing Guida, one of MMA's steeliest fighters, his first knockout loss. When you consider that Guida has fought the likes of Anthony Pettis, Diego Sanchez, Takanori Gomi, Nate Diaz and Rafael dos Anjos, that's quite the accomplishment.

    What Made 2013 Great: Utter dominance below 155 pounds.

    Team Alpha Male was on a 17-fight winning streak at one point in 2013. That is an astounding feat. It didn't last to the end of the year, though, as TJ Dillashaw dropped a narrow split decision and Benavidez got punched out by Johnson, but Team Alpha Male still had, by far, the best record of any large gym in the UFC.

    What to Look Forward to in 2014: Invasion of bantamweight division.

    Hey, remember a few years ago when welterweight was pretty thin, and Dana White was pulling out his metaphorical hair about the refusal of Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch to fight each other because they were gym buddies? Okay, now imagine if there were five Koschecks and Fitches.

    That is what 135 pounds is shaping up to be in 2013.

    Faber and Dillashaw are sitting securely in the Top 10 right now. With some of the division's upper ranks moving down toward 125 pounds, there isn't too much stopping Holdsworth from joining them.

    Depending on how things shake out between Faber and bantamweight champs Cruz and Barao, we might see Benavidez move back to bantamweight. On top of that, Mendes is one controversial decision away from having a drop to bantamweight look pretty darn good.

    Oh, and how about other affiliated fighters like Bryan Caraway and Scott Jorgensen?

No. 1: Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts

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    Location: Albuquerque, N.M.
    Top Performers: Jon Jones, Travis Browne
    Rising Star: Tim Kennedy

    Top Performance: Tim Kennedy knocks out Rafael Natal.

    If you don't love Kennedy, you're probably a bad person. That's a fact. He's a charming, fun, eloquent, exciting fighter who happens to be a veteran of the U.S. Army.

    Fighting in front of his fellow soldiers at UFC: Fight for the Troops 3, he got a Knockout of the Night bonus against Natal and brought a manly tear to this writer's eye. The moment was made even more inspirational when he revealed afterward that he was fighting on a badly injured leg.

    What Made 2013 Great: Fighters rapidly rise to the top.

    Jackson's MMA has always been home to a huge number of excellent fighters. What made 2013 a particularly great year for it was the sheer number of new fighters who vaulted up the divisional rankings.

    Rustam Khabilov is a major player at lightweight these days, Travis Browne is arguably already the heavyweight top contender, Michelle Waterson took the Invicta atomweight belt, John Dodson cemented himself as a Top Five flyweight...the list goes on.

    All that is on top of steady presences among MMA's elite, such as Jon Jones, Donald Cerrone, Carlos Condit and more.

    What to Look Forward to in 2014: Khabilov being Khabilov.

    Khabilov is one of the most exciting fighters in MMA right now. After he suplexed Vinc Pichel unconscious, he took two wins in 2013 over Yancy Medeiros and Jorge Masvidal. He has earned a huge jump in competition and faces Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 170 in a critical lightweight bout.